As the long weekend for the 4th approached, the wife and I were trying to decide a reasonable way to spend the weekend. At some point, a weekend section on the AT is what was decided upon. It’s important to establish that Steph has never really done any kind of real distance hike before, let alone backpacked over night. This only added to the allure of this idea.
We had about a month to plan and get equipment. REI and Amazon were about to become a good bit more profitable. We spent the preceding weeks getting her geared up for the endeavor.
As the trip approached (about a week out), I began digging deeper into the logistics and thinking about how to spot vehicles at our proposed start/finish points. I had read about shuttle services, but always assumed they would be cost-prohibitive (for some reason thinking along the lines of taxi costs). On a whim, I found a shuttle in the Waynesboro area (thanks to the AWOL’s guide that I had purchased). After speaking with Adam (Stanimal) for about 5 minutes, I realized our trip was going to be significantly less complicated and even more affordable. We ended up deciding to stay at his hostel and utilize his incredibly reasonable shuttle service. His advice and knowledge were inspiring and valuable services will again be included in our next trip in a few months.
Steph wasn’t able to get the full day off, so we headed north around noon on Friday, and got checked into the hostel around 6. Adam’s gracious wife, Dana, got us checked in and situated. She provided an incredible recommendation for dinner at Jake’s Bar and Grill, where I was lucky enough to hit “steak night” and have an incredible steak and some local beer! We got to meet with Adam later that evening and decided on a late start, since we only had 7.7 miles to cover the following day, before hitting the only reasonable shelter for an amateur hike. Hung out a bit with 2 other hikers that evening and then got a good night’s rest.
Based on Adam’s recommendation, we visited a local joint and had a good breakfast with the 2 through-hikers (we still had wheels), and then set off to spot our car up at RipRap parking (Skyline MP90).
Adam then brought us back down to the park entrance and we entered the trail at VA250/BRP (861.3 AT-NB). We thanked him, assured we would be calling again, and parted ways at the trailhead. Being the weekend of the 4th, there were no shortage of hikers, with day packs, bouncing from point to point along Skyline Drive. Occasionally though, we would see hikers who were obviously out for a longer haul. Although the through-hiker “bubble” was mostly through, we ran into quite a few late starters, or slower goers along the trail. The traffic offered occasion for some joint photos
Steph got her first taste of a little climb along just over 2 and a half miles going toward McCormick Gap, and the Skyline road crossing at 102. We stopped there along the bridge and grabbed a bite to eat as it was a little after lunch by this time.
We then packed back up and made the rest of the climb up to Bears Den Mountain. We stopped for a couple mins to look at the towers, enjoy the view off the side of the mountain, and Steph posed for a photo on those (very random) tractor seats.
We then walked down the mountain and through the fields into Beagles Gap. Stopped here for a drink and Steph decided to capitalize on the porta-potties that happened to be there. As we were heading out, another couple (obviously through-hikers) walked into the parking area. We didn’t pay them much mind, just nodded a greeting and headed out.
We made the small climb up to Little Calf Mountain, where we ran into a gentleman with his son and some friends. We chatted with them for a bit. They had brought along a bag of cherries with them. They offered and we both sampled a couple while we chatted. They obliged us by taking a photo of us together, and we headed off to complete the trek toward the shelter.
We reached Calf Mountain shelter (AT 869.0 NB) around 6:30. As I walked just past the spring (.1 miles shy of the shelter), I was greeted by an older gentleman in a uniform. He identified himself as a “ridge-runner”. We chatted for few moments. He advised there was a chance of rain that night, so after chatting a few more minutes I excused myself to set up our tent and get a water resupply. We finished approaching the shelter to find a group of about 8, most playing cards or milling about the shelter. We recognized one of the folks at the shelter as a hiker (Curious George) who had stayed at Stanimal’s the prior evening. There were two younger girls hiking together (later we learned, one a through-hiker and the other a friend who had joined for a section). The couple we had seen at Beagle Gap was also at the shelter, a husband and wife trail names Spudnick and Babushka).
I set up our tent as Steph got off her feet for a bit. We grabbed some dinner, and I even made some coffee and joined in for the tail end of a game of spades with the group.
I woke up around 4:30am to hear the rain starting. Laid around and listened to it off and on, and napped till around 5:00. Finally got up and moved under the shelter, which was now empty. Apparently, the remaining through-hikers all opted for their tents over the shelter as it was empty. 2 of the hikers had moved on in the night by the light of headlamps.
I sat and enjoyed the quiet, until around 5:30, contemplating having to pack up a wet tent. I finally heard the ridge-runner starting to stir. He quickly started packing up for his day’s journey. We chatted a bit, and then I started hearing others starting to stir around 6:30 or so. Folks started dragging gear into the shelter, and packing up.
I had breakfast, and more coffee, and let Steph sleep in. After a couple more “just a few more minutes”, Steph finally got up around 8:30. She had breakfast and I began dragging gear into shelter, and then moving the tent over to pack up. We futzed around until around 10, getting water (as there were not water point for until the next shelter , about 15 miles up the trail).
We slowly moved out and headed toward the powerlines above Jarman Gap. We were a bit concerned as we listened to them humming and popping, presumably due to the rain. Aside from the massive lines, it was a beautiful view down the mountain. We met a gentleman heading southbound with his dog “Daisy”. We chatted with him a bit and admired how well his dog behaved as we talked.
After crossing Skyline 95.3, we found a tangle of trees across the trail. As we came up to Turk Mountain Trail, we heard some ruckus. 3 gentleman were loudly talking. They advised us that there was a bear between the two trails. We opted to quietly continue on the AT. We let the group get some space between us and moved on.
We got around 50 or so meters down the trail and I could hear the bear about 20 meters off the trail. Steph caught a glimpse and saw she had 2 cubs with her. We quietly moved on and I was only able to grab this blurry photo, as we didn’t want to risk scaring mom.
We came out at Turk Gap and stopped for a couple mins and a photo. Just before getting there, we passed an older woman, hiking by herself. She was carrying a small napsack, but stopped to talk to us about “hearing about bears” and showing us her “deterrent”. I had to snicker a bit as she pulled a 6″ air horn out of her jacket. I opted not to mention the bears we had just seen. Didn’t want to risk mama bear getting hearing damage 🙂
We continued on to the trail crossing at Skyline 92.4, where we stopped and had lunch. Was our last meal before leaving the drive, so we shared a Mountain House Beef Stroganoff and Chocolate Raspberry dessert. These meals are a little bulky, but will likely stash a couple in my pack in the future, for a break from the daily spam ‘n crackers entree 🙂
Enjoying the bug-free view, I was a bit slow to wanna get back on trail, but we completed the last 3 miles quickly. Steph was hooked, and we are excited to get back out on the trail (for a more extended period) in early Sep.